Endings: Fiction vs. Real Life

Here we are at the end of the year, with me, cleaning up the draft of my next novel, MURDEROUS MEANS, #6 in the Southern California Mysteries. I know who did it (or do I?). A few questions I always ask about endings:

– Has the main character evolved? Between you and me, I ask myself the same question at the end of the year. Have I improved in character? Have I learned new things in my quest toward progressing as a human? What could I do better? Guess who gets these same questions: Corrie Locke, my heroine. 

– Does Corrie solve the problem/mystery/murder? If you’ve read my books, you’ll note that happy endings are a must for me. My characters go through trials and hurdles, but if they hang in there, things are bound to change. In real life, we know that change can play little and big roles. It’s our reactions to these changes that make all the difference. For instance, in my real life, I recently made a concentrated effort to change my usual reaction to a situation. To react in a more positive manner, holding on to calmness and understanding. It made a huge impact on my well-being. In MURDEROUS MEANS, a change takes place in Corrie’s life that impacts her mode of investigating, and her well-being. Did she cause the change or was it an accident?

– Do all characters play an important role? In fiction, characters need to move the story forward. In real life, people should do the same, whether it’s in the grocery store line or a friend. They can’t just show up now and then, disappear, and return at a whim. They need to bring something to the table or the page, in a positive manner in real life, but in fiction, sometimes we need those not so pleasant people to move the story forward, even if it means in a negative way.

As we begin a new year, may we take whatever action needed in real and in our fiction writing life, and work “not with tense… striving, but with ease and joy.”* I have to remind myself, as does Corrie, not to love the goal more than the doing in order to keep myself happy. How about you?


*Sraddha Mata

Nanowrimo in Progress

I’ve never officially participated in Nanowrimo, until now. Nearly two weeks and I’m chugging along to complete a first draft of a novel. Think I’ve got it in me to do that? Yes! After all, it’s just a draft, aka, “the sloppy copy” as school kids say. 

I’m working hard on pushing on until the very end. How does one do this despite hiccups, whooping cough and sleeping sickness, not to mention hunger pangs? All of which come in to play to divert attention from the monumental task of completing that first attempt. Ways to fight back:

1. Remind yourself that discouragement and doubt have no place in a writer’s life. Do you know how many people carry around ideas for years and never do anything with them?     

2. Don’t stop writing. The goal isn’t all that hard: you just need something complete enough, in the correct word count, to play around with. Who doesn’t like to take time to play?

3. Keep the word “revision” front and center. That’s the fuel you need to reach the goal. Revision is a writer’s dear friend. And it’s not a one-time event. The more you revise, the more you’ll learn and become a better writer. As Neil Simon once said, “In baseball you only get three swings and you’re out. In rewriting, you get almost as many swings as you want and you know, sooner or later, you’ll hit the ball.” 

4. Remember, you don’t have to love that first draft. You don’t have to hate it either. You can combine the two, knowing all the while you’ve got what it takes to make it shine. Stand and stretch, eat a fun snack, go out in nature. Every little step will help you become a better writer.

5. Take a little time off after you finish your draft to race past the love/hate relationship. You can even write something else. All of which will help you return with a fresh outlook and energized to go. You can do this!

My Novel Path to Publication

I’m frequently asked about my publication timeline from the start of writing my first novel to publication. I’ll outline it for you right here, right now:

Early 2012 – (Actually it was a few weeks shy of 2012, but let’s not get technical) – I submitted the first chapter of a work-in-progress, a historical novel set in the Middle East, for a contest to win a scholarship to attend a West Coast Writer’s Conference. A month or so later, I was notified that I won. I attended the Conference, garnered lots of interest, but had nothing to sell. Takeaway: always have something ready to pitch. It’s helpful if that something were…say…a completed manuscript. Live and learn.

Early 2012 – (February/March) – I begin writing the first draft of a mystery novel based on my former lawyerly life. I revised that draft about 100 times before I was confident enough to call it finished. I used beta readers along the way.

~June 2014 – I won the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship Award (that included $$) for my manuscript.

Up until November, 2014 – I submitted the manuscript to agents and publishing houses and was rejected, mostly.

November, 2014 – I was offered a contract. The editor of the publishing company completely won me over. She loved my manuscript and was so utterly a pleasure to work with that I was happy to sign with them. 

May, 2015 – The scent of spring was in the air, as was the push for marketing my release, which was coming up mid-September. I watched and learned from bigger authors. If I had to do it over again, I would have trained myself earlier and started marketing about six months in advance.

My book marketing continued through most of 2016. I visited libraries, bookstores, and conferences; a few wineries, book clubs and I appeared on podcasts. I had more fun than I imagined. 

Takeaway: set a writing goal and do your best to reach it. If you slack off a day or two, or even a week or more, stay calm. The important point to remember is you’re writing because you enjoy it. Do nothing to take away that splendid feeling of satisfaction as you get closer and closer to completion. It’s a miracle every time.